Andres Iniesta has conceded Spain will have to step up a gear if they are to overcome the Dutch in tomorrow's 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Final.
Although the UEFA EURO 2008 winners have lived up to their pre-tournament billing by reaching the decider at Soccer City to give them a shot at lifting the greatest trophy in the game for the first time, they have still not managed to hit top form.
Star striker Fernando Torres is yet to score in South Africa and lost his place for the semi-final triumph over Germany to Barcelona youngster Pedro. And although David Villa is favourite to land the adidas Golden Boot, having found the net on five occasions already, three successive 1-0 victories in the knock-out stage does not indicate a team at its peak.
We will play better because we will probably have to if we are going to win the World Cup.
Although they dominated their semi-final against Germany in Durban on Wednesday, Spain once again failed to find the killer touch and they would have been behind had Toni Kroos finished off the chance that fell his way just before Carles Puyol headed the winner.
Iniesta knows that what the Netherlands lack in eye-catching brilliance, they make up for with industry. And the 26-year-old playmaker acknowledges second best is not going to be good enough this time around. "We will play better because we will probably have to if we are going to win the World Cup," he said. "What we did in the semi-final certainly won't help us to win the final. But I have confidence in my team-mates and I think this group is able to take the final step."
History beckons in more ways than one. Victory for Spain tomorrow would not only be the first time they have won the game's greatest prize, it would also mean they become the first team since West Germany 36 years ago to follow up a European Championship triumph by lifting the FIFA World Cup.
They would also become the first team to collect the trophy after losing their opening game, which they did against Switzerland on 16 June. A lot of soul searching followed that setback. And although the desired form has proved elusive, the right mentality has returned. "The initial defeat against Switzerland upset us all," said Iniesta. "It was the first game and from that moment we had no margin for error. We knew we could not fail. I hope it proves to be the only game we lose."
A less experienced coach than Vicente del Bosque might have panicked following that Swiss defeat. But, as usual, the 59-year-old kept his nerve. It is one of the reasons why Spain's highly-paid stars are so respectful of the former Real Madrid coach. "He is someone who is very clear about what he has to say, what he wants us to do on the pitch and how we behave. For all those reasons we are very fond of him," said Iniesta
The whole of Spain will be fond of Del Bosque if he delivers the ultimate prize. It is an achievement that the country's standing in the game demands and one their star players are relishing the prospect of. "This is a historic event, a unique opportunity for us all," said Iniesta. "It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up just thinking about it.
"We have all dreamed of this moment. But we have to finish the dream. We cannot celebrate anything yet," Iniesta went on. "Before us is the challenge of winning a World Cup. We are cautious because we know that we still have the last step, and that last step is the most difficult and the most beautiful."